Kids With No Money
I make songs, some of which harangue the world — and the world mostly don’t want to be harangued, so I don’t always have much money. My wife is a poet, the only profession that pays less than haranguing, and she does freelance writing from home so we kind of get along on that.
It’s bad for financing seven-course meals in restaurants but great for spending a lot of time with your kids. Which I’ve done and enjoyed almost as much as they’ve enjoyed spending time with me. (Ha, ha.)
Like animals or trees, children don’t think differently of you based on how much money you have. Children don’t need money to have fun. I spent a good ten years hightailing it out the door with a crying baby or toddler in the afternoons so that my wife could have the house to work, and rolling the stroller down the sidewalk I found stuff to keep their minds occupied.
Sometimes, on the way to a park I would ask the trees and lawn ornaments the way to ‘Magical Green Land’ – our name for the park. I carried on an involved conversation with one of those lawn jockeys (mercifully painted white) and the cute purple bunny beside him, before realizing an older woman was standing on her porch, watching me. I scooted on down the road, looking back once to see her shuffled out onto her lawn, inspecting her jockey and bunny.
But magic and adventure is everywhere, no need to talk to lawn ornaments. (Though that could be a money-saving tactic for those who can’t afford to go to theme parks with mascots walking around). In the local bagel shop where my then two-year-old daughter and I visited regularly, a mentally-challenged man and his mother would be there every day. He never failed to stand over my daughter’s stroller murmuring, “Coochie Coochie Coo.” Dunno where he is now, but he remains in my child’s memory storehouse immortalized as the “Coochie Coo” man.
This city offers much that is wild and strange: you can follow the Don River into mysterious and far flung outposts. A pristine snow at Christmas last year found my son and I hiking through a Currier and Ives painting, coming back to civilization in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery where we pondered the tombstones, especially a dual one for two male partners, their engaging likenesses chiselled into snow-swept granite.
In the summer there have always been the pools and the beaches. Like the Bert Lancaster character in The Swimmer, who traverses his city by jumping in an out of backyard suburban pools, so have we traverse our city in and out of pools and beaches: East York, Monarch Park, Riverdale, High Park, Sunnyside, Beaches – not on an existential quest like Bert’s character, but in search of fun and cooling off. Best diving board by far: the Summerville Olympic diving pool with its 10 m height that the kids love, and makes dad’s heart go into his throat. I also like the rough beach at Cherry Beach but the kids don’t like the stones.
There are many scavenger hunts to be had in the city. As I got the kids out of the house one day, mom was blue so I said we had to find a magical green stone for her called a ‘Gobloots’ and that would make her happy. They scanned the yards on each side but we didn’t see anything till we got to the main street — and there was a translucent decorative green stone in the window of a florist shop used for arrangements.
I bought it for a couple bucks and we took it proudly home to mom, who pretended to be thrilled.
Subway surfing, crossing the Bloor Viaduct, inspecting homeless camps in Don Valley: these are all are adventures to be had without money. As is walking with your dad through a mall while he holds onto your hair, making it look like he’s dragging you by it, inspiring stares of stunned horror all around.
My kids, now 11 and 15, are less likely to be amazed by decorative figurines but they can tell you the last person who was hanged in Canada at the Don Jail in February 1965, and they have the memory of how their dad made them walk all the way down Taylor Creek one day when he didn’t want to admit he was lost, coming home crying from the pain in their feet and with a dog so muddy and tired all he could do was flop in the corner and sleep – and naturally that is worth more than any amount of money can buy.
(a golden oldie from Kyp Harness’s 1998 album Houdini In Reverse and one of the best songs ever written – Ed)